Ottawa cracks down on cases of immigration fraud, identifying more than 10,000 people suspected of committing residency fraud - most in the Middle East.
Middle East Canadians fear having citizenship revoked
ABU DHABI // Thousands of people throughout the Middle East with residency rights in Canada fear having them revoked as the government in Ottawa cracks down on fraud.
Many admit having taken advantage of lax enforcement of Canadian immigration laws, but they say regional turmoil, most recently in Syria, leaves them without the security of a home base.
Dany El Eid, a Lebanese-born Canadian who lives and works in Dubai, where he runs his own business, said people who faked Canadian residency did so because their "basic human values are jeopardised" in their home countries.
"People need to live, full stop. But their passports don't allow them to be able to travel with peace of mind," he said.
Mr El Eid, 30, who lived in Montreal with his parents from 1986 to 1994 and is a legitimate Canadian citizen, said many people in the Middle East were in "tough situations" because of political conflict.
Canada's immigration minister Jason Kenney announced last month that immigration investigators had identified more than 10,000 people suspected of committing residency fraud. Nearly 5,000 of them have permanent residency status, and 3,100 are naturalised Canadians whose citizenship is being revoked. Most of those affected are in the Middle East.
Canadian immigration law requires new immigrants to live in the country for a minimum of three years continuously before applying for citizenship.
But Mr Kenney said thousands had found ways to fake evidence of having lived in Canada, many with the assistance of crooked immigration consultants. The going rate for simulating residence for a family of five is about 25,000 Canadian dollars (Dh94,000), the minister said.
Last week a Turkish couple, Reha and Ecehan Ozcelik, were fined Can$120,000 dollars and face having their residency visas revoked after they failed to answer basic questions about their supposed home town, Montreal, when they arrived at the city's Trudeau airport.
An investigation found that in the five years since the couple had become permanent Canadian residents they had spent only about a month in the country.
"Our government will not tolerate the deliberate abuse of Canada's immigration system," Mr Kenney said after the verdict. "Our message is clear: individuals who choose to commit fraud will be caught and punished."
Immigration authorities in Canada have introduced a new version of the residency questionnaire issued to some citizenship applicants.
"This new residency questionnaire is part of … efforts to tackle fraud," said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
She said it was issued in cases where additional information and documents were needed to determine whether an applicant met residency requirements.
The crackdown worries GCC residents such as Palestinian-born Rami Shublack, 32, who applied for residency in Canada in 2007 and had his application approved last year. He has distant relatives in Canada, but no immediate family there.
Mr Shublack, a computer software manager, said regional instability had persuaded him to seek residency rights in Canada. "No matter how long we live here, we are always at risk of losing our jobs and then being forced to go back to the situation in our home countries," he said.
He paid US$4,000 (Dh14,700) to the Premiers immigration consultancy to obtain his Canadian residency visa. He said the United States and Canada were his "top selections" but the processing time for Canada was quicker.
He plans to move there permanently in two years, when he has saved up enough money in the UAE. "I'm just waiting for the right time, because it can be challenging to find a job there once you land," he said.
Hamad Aziz, from the Sharjah immigration consultancy firm Diverse Immigration, said people often asked him for ways to manoeuvre around regulations. "I refuse them, and tell them to follow the rules," he said.
"People were faking their stay in Canada with dummy home addresses, or giving credit cards to a person there to show that they were present in the country."
Sohail Saleem, the general manager of Premiers, which says it is the largest immigration consultancy in the Middle East, said those options were "often offered by some crooks in Canada; and they try to exploit the loopholes in the system".
A former Canadian diplomat in Abu Dhabi said the problem was that most consultants were "unscrupulous, as their main motivation is money".
"There's nothing you can get from immigration consultants that you can't do yourself," he said.